Gateway football players put focus on individual improvement during offseason workouts

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Sunday, June 25, 2023 | 10:45 AM


Eight months removed from a close loss to Upper St. Clair in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs and with just six weeks remaining until the start of heat acclimation workouts that usher in the start of the 2023 season, Gateway football team members are leaving no stone unturned in making sure they are in position to challenge for WPIAL gold.

The Gators hit the field three days a week in June, and when the calendar turns to July, a fourth day of on-field work will be added.

Gators players in helmets and their coaches were on the turf at Antimarino Stadium last Thursday in comfortable temperatures as clouds built in and the threat of rain became more prevalent.

“We were short a few guys that we know will make an impact, but the guys who were there got a lot of good work in,” coach Don Holl said.

The Gators also are testing their mettle with 7-on-7 action, now a summer staple for teams throughout the WPIAL and beyond.

“During the season, we find that we lose a lot of opportunities for focus on individual work and progress. Something has to get cut during a game week as there is only so much time as we are putting in a game plan for a particular opponent,” Holl said.

“This time of the summer, in June, we call it position clinics. If you are an offensive lineman, you’re going to do an hour or so of just lineman drills and other specific work. It’s the same with the linebackers, running backs, receivers and defensive backs. This is some of the most important work of the year. It forms or solidifies a good foundation for the rest of the summer before camp opens.”

Holl said that turnout has been strong for the on-field workouts as the end of the school year turned to summer. But he said he understands that for some of the team members, the focus isn’t solely on football.

“It’s a time for families to go on vacation or see relatives and some have summer jobs,” Holl said.

“We realize there are other things going on. There’s nothing more important than family, and we want them to have those special moments. We also want them to know that we want them to be here as much as they can to be all in and get better.”

Senior linebacker Remy Bose, a Big East Conference first-team selection at linebacker last season, said the mission entering the offseason was to get stronger, faster, smarter and even more mentally focused on preparing to win football games.

“We’ve been losing in the playoffs short of our goal the past three years, and that’s not Gateway football,” Bose said of the postseason results after the Gators won the WPIAL Class 5A title in 2019.

“We have the talent on this team to be winning every season,” he said.

“Every practice, we have to come ready to work. We were in go-mode a week after the season ended.”

Gateway made a WPIAL first-round exit in 2022 after a 7-3 overall regular-season mark and a co-Big East Championship with Franklin Regional.

In 2021, Penn Hills cut the Gators’ season short with a 23-20 first-round loss.

The year before, Gateway fell to Peters Township in heartbreaking fashion, 20-19, in the Class 5A semifinals at Antimarino Stadium.

“We’re definitely going to miss the leadership that (the seniors) brought to the team, but at the same time, we have people stepping up all the time who want to be the leaders of this year’s team,” Bose said.

“Us seniors, and even ones all the way down to the freshman, we have a goal in mind to make it happen. It’s a process, and we make progress every day. We’re happy with that.”

Senior Brad Birch, entering his fourth year as a varsity starter and his third season with Gateway, began the summer with Division I offers from Oregon and Akron, while Penn State and Pitt have shown interest.

Birch joined Bose on the 2022 Big East first team after throwing for 1,786 yards and 14 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Rising senior running back Jaquon Reynolds suffered an ankle injury in last year’s preseason scrimmage against Belle Vernon, and the injury nagged at him all season.

But he remained in the lineup and finished with 661 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 145 attempts while adding 30 catches for 322 yards. He was recognized with a spot in the all-conference second team.

“We’re really excited for this season,” Reynolds said. “We have some new starters stepping up and some new coaches who brought in some different ideas. I feel it’s going to be a big year for us. It all starts now with getting right with the basics and trying to get sharp with that.”

While the Gators players and coaches aren’t focusing on conference matchups just yet, they know that, down the line, the conference again will be as close and competitive as it was last year with Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford, Plum, Hempfield, and Norwin back in the fold.

Gateway lost to Franklin Regional, 16-7, in its conference opener but ran the table to finished 4-1. The Panthers fell to Penn-Trafford in the conference finale to also finish 4-1.

Holl said he’s confident and optimistic that Gateway will be in position to bring home more hardware.

“There are jobs that will be competed for,” Holl said. “That is the case every year as it is with losing talented senior leaders. On paper, everyone’s job is open right now.

“What we hope and what we feel is an earmark of a good program, and we feel we are a good program, is having players who are impatiently waiting their turn who might be good enough to start for other teams who are just behind someone on the depth chart who is even better. That is a great problem to have. They spend a year as an apprentice, getting reps when they can, and working in a lot on special teams. Now, this is the time for those players to seize the opportunity and work to make the team the best it can be.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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